Guest Blogger: Sarah Higginbotham, Oregon Government Relations Director
On October 22nd, Multnomah County Commissioners heard from a long list of advocates and organizations supporting improved tobacco control policies that could help the county go from lagging behind the rest of the country to leading it. Multnomah County is ranked the worst in the country for illegal tobacco sales to minors, due in large part to a lack of a licensure program for tobacco retailers.
Oregon is one of only a few states that doesn’t require a license to sell tobacco, which would identify merchants, impose standards, and enforce laws that are currently violated without consequence. Tobacco retail licensure programs have effectively reduced sales to youth in many communities across the nation. During the public hearing, commissioners considered policies aimed at better protecting youth from tobacco.
Commissioners also heard support for raising legal sale age for tobacco to 21. A report released earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine indicates that raising the age of sale of tobacco products to 21 nationally would reduce the smoking rate by 12%.
“Recent research reinforces what we’ve known all along—age matters when it comes to tobacco prevention,” said Dr. Michael Shapiro, cardiologist and board member with the American Heart Association of Oregon & SW Washington. “Ninety-five percent of smokers start before age 21. The longer we can delay that first puff, the more likely our kids will enter adulthood free from tobacco addiction.”
The county would be following in the footsteps of more than 90 municipalities across the nation, including New York City, as well as the state of Hawaii, which raised the age to purchase tobacco this year.
Ori Alon, a 16-year-old student from Catlin Gabel High School, submitted his thoughts as testimony.
“Tobacco is so easy to get from friends who are seniors,” Alon said. “If you want to make it actually difficult, raise the tobacco age to 21."
Commissioners have the opportunity to pass policies that protect our kids from the dangers of tobacco addiction.